Posts in Book Lists
Wrap Up | October 2018
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Michaela

A War and Peace update! - I am a little over halfway through this monster, and devoted most of my reading time to it this month, so I figured I would give an update instead of a review. Basically, I freaking love it. I can’t focus on any other books because I love it to much. I’m nearly at the halfway point now (about 600 pages in) and I am riveted. It’s hard to explain, but Tolstoy is just so good at the micro and the macro, and has built such amazing characters who you really, really get to know. This book is a behemoth, and so, so worthwhile. There is just so much going on, and it’s all just so good. I wish I had more coherent thoughts, and maybe by the time I finish I can say something worthwhile, but for now, I just love love love it.

Warbreaker | Brandon Sanderson- This was a book club book that I went into with high hopes! Sanderson is a much lauded author in the fantasy genre and I was genuinely excited….until I got 300/676 pages into it and literally could not focus on reading it because I was so ragey at how terrible it is. Poor plot pacing, passive, weak lead characters, and “witty” banter that was downright painful to read it was so strained and trite. Oh and I guessed the “big twist” on like page 50 (yeah, I definitely skimmed the ending). The internet agrees this is an anomaly for Sanderson, and not representative of his other work, so I may try another of his novels later on.

Frankenstein | Mary Shelley- A pretty quick read, and definitely nothing like the commercialized version of the story we all know. I was surprised at how political this book got, and enjoyed how utterly Gothic it was, melodrama and all. I love reading classics like this precisely because they tend to be so different than the version pop culture shows us. I’d highly recommend this one if you enjoy 19th century or Gothic literature, because it’s a great example of both.

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Rikki

Stay With Me | Ayobami Adebayo - This was such a well done story. I was really immersed in the lives of the characters and had to see it through. With that said, this was also a hard one to read and kind of the worst. I can seldom do without some redemptive qualities and this story had pretty much none. Plus, I loathed the ending and that left me utterly disappointed.

This is How It Always Is | Laurie Frankel - Another well done story that was character driven and had me holding on till the end. I had to know what happened. Frankel took a controversial topic in our society and placed it in a work of fiction that was handled beautifully. However, every single thing in this story wrapped up neatly in a bow, every character was intelligent and knew what to say, and the convenience of how certain aspects played out was too much of a coincidence. Again, well done for the topic of a transgender child, but a little too neat for my taste.

Autumn | Karl Ove Knausgaard - I picked this up at the perfect time for me. I was feeling more than contented with my reading life and was ready to settle into something slow and steady, and this collection of short stories fit the bill and the season. But, as this book goes, it’s meant to be read and enjoyed with time to think it all over, and well, I got impatient at the time it took and was ready to be done. I enjoyed it immensely, and though there were a handful of stories I didn’t care for, there were many more I marked for re-reading. I also felt this was much less a collection of "letters to his unborn daughter” as it was a collection of “thoughts on random things in life.”

There There | Tommy Orange - This book was pretty good. Orange does something very different, in a very real way, and I fully appreciated the story. I especially loved the interconnectedness of the characters and thought that while the ending was a tragic wrap up, it ended absolutely perfectly too, as a finale of sorts.

As I Lay Dying | William Faulkner - This was my bedtime story each night and was so perfect to read slowly and soak in Faulkner’s beautiful prose. It took me about 20 pages to realize what was going on and how it was going to unfold, as Faulkner has a very unique way of writing and this is an even more unique, sometimes funny, sometimes morose, story. I also felt reminisce of Steinbeck throughout, in the same layered, impressive descriptive and immersive writing that I love, but not nearly as straightforward.

The Thirteenth Tale | Diane Setterfield - I would have loved this story much more when I was younger. I will say that I enjoyed it quite a bit and loved the unique plot and elements of mystery. Where I think the story took a wrong turn for me is how unbelievably convenient every single thing (read: attempts at mystery and intrigue) that occurs. The plot/mystery could have easily been elaborated on much more.

Where the Crawdads Sing | Delia Owens - Michaela didn’t finish reading this last month and passed it off knowing I’d enjoy it. I see exactly why it wasn’t for her, although I very much loved this book. There is a very mellow, but very good atmosphere, very accurate, albeit unique, character development, and the little plot twist hidden at the end left me chuckling just a bit at how clever, no bullshit the main character is. I thought Owens’ writing was beautiful, I loved the poetry and story development, and if the prose had been a little more thought-provoking, this would have been an all time favorite forever and ever. Still, it was very good. I can’t wait to see what else she writes!

Frankenstein | Mary Shelley - This book is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It constantly blew me away. While I found the story to have some gaping holes and leave some things to be desired, I found every single word to be absolutely beautiful—and for a teenager to write this—I’m speechless. There are a ton of nuances littered throughout, a lot of philosophy, and even some political undertones. I’m just going to crawl into a deep book hangover for the next week.

New + Classic Gothic Novels

If we’re going to talk about Gothic novels, it would help to take a look at what Gothic fiction actually is. Basically, if it involves creepy vibes, death, a little horror, intense emotions, paranormal bits, and even some romance—congratulations, you’ve got yourself a Gothic novel! They tend to move away from logic and reason and more toward emotion and imagination, and that shift tends to lead to some really interesting fiction. We absolutely love this genre for this time of year, because neither of us are much into horror or gore, and these tend to give us the suspense and spooky feels without grossing us out.

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If you’re looking for the classics:

Wuthering Heights| Emily Brontë- People who go into this expecting a romance story or anything along the lines of Jane Austen are going to be sorely disappointed. The book opens with a ghost sawing our narrator’s arm on a jagged piece of broken window…so yeah, Austen would certainly not approve. The dark and twisted romantic connection between wicked, passionate Heathcliff and fiesty, petulant Catherine is set against the infamously bleak landscape of the English moors, making for an extremely atmospheric story. This book is exceptionally intense and dark, but the flawed characters, the elements of the supernatural, and the deeply human connections coalesce into something remarkable, even if it isn’t exactly pleasant.

Rebecca | Daphne Du Maurier- This one, though published in the 30’s, has aged beautifully. It’s got an aging English mansion and all the morose, rainy atmosphere you could possibly want. The story revolves around a young newlywed, a psychologically manipulative housekeeper, marital secrets, mysteries, plenty of death, and the story climaxes spectacularly during a formal masked ball. Intrigued yet? Plus, echoes of Jane Eyre abound. Speaking of which…

Jane Eyre | Charlotte Brontë- A little less sinister than some others on this list, nevertheless this is a truly exceptional example of Gothic literature. Sad childhoods, creepy, creepy secrets, a bit of romance, a remote mansion in the English countryside (sensing a theme here…) and a good dose of melodrama build this novel into it’s shocking conclusion. Jane herself is quite the admirable heroine, fiery and strong under her calm, plain exterior; it's very easy to appreciate why she is so beloved. Well worth reading, and I guarantee you’ll recognize some familiar tropes, because this is the novel that started them!

The Woman in White | Wilkie Collins- A complex page turner, this one features a mysterious woman in white, whispers of insane asylums, ominous letters, star crossed lovers, grand estates, and much more. It's got just enough of a creepy edge to be perfectly Gothic, while having plenty of other action happening to keep the well layered mystery plot moving quickly. 

Frankenstein | Mary Shelley- Our buddy read/readalong this month, and does this one even need an explanation? It has permeated pop culture so thoroughly, just do yourself a favor and read the original! It’s much better than the green monsters printed on Halloween decorations, or the black and white horror show movie you remember, we promise. Plus, Mary Shelley was fascinating. More on her later.

 

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If you want A fresh take on Gothic lit:

The Thirteenth Tale | Diane Setterfield- A reclusive, dying author hires a relatively unknown biographer, Margaret, to tell her life story. Old world glamour, family secrets, and mysterious ties that bind them together abound in this novel. It has some strong flavors of Rebecca, Jane Eyre and The Woman in White, so expect madness, secrets, the threat of the paranormal, and death (of course), but the book remains exceptionally clever and fresh. Oh! And the majority of the story takes place in…you guessed it: a creepy old English mansion!

Bitter Orange | Claire Fuller- I read this one last month and was blown away. A crumbling English mansion in the countryside (yep! again!), a couple who aren’t what they seem, secrets of both the house and of the people, rich, dark atmosphere despite it’s sunny facade, and yes, death, obviously, because we’re talking about Gothic novels! Bitter Orange is like if Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night and Du Maurier’s Rebecca had an eerily atmospheric, glittering book baby. Plus it was such a clever, clever twist on the unreliable narrator thing. Ultimately, you’re a stunningly written and complex mystery when you pick this one up.

Her Body and Other Parties | Carmen Maria Machado- A short story collection that 100% felt like reading a modern, diverse take on Gothic lit. These stories play with unique formats and blur horror and love into a gorgeously realized collection. Dark, powerful, fresh, and so so good; I absolutely loved it. I will say that it is VERY graphic, so read at your own risk if you're sensitive to that! 

The Secret History | Donna Tartt- Remember the elements that comprise a Gothic novel? The Secret History has them alllllll. Incredible atmosphere? Check. Melodrama and big feelings? Check. Murder? Double Check. Horror? Paranormal bits? Check and check. It’s perfect. I know you guys don’t need to hear me gush about this book ever again, but…it’s a perfect example of a modern Gothic novel, just sayin’!

The Winters | Lisa Gabriele- This one is due to release next week (10/16), but it’s essentially a modern retelling of the infamous Rebecca. All the same elements, but sub the nasty housekeeper for a foul mouthed step daughter with a huge Instagram following, and add in Caribbean cruises, deadly car crashes, and one hell of a twist at the end. All the tension and atmosphere you could ever want, and a brilliant take on an old favorite.

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What are your favorite Gothic novels, old or new?

Wrap Up | September 2018
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Michaela

P.S I Still Love You | Jenny Han - Pretty much everyone has read this series at this point, it seems, and there isn’t much new to say about it. I think it’s warm and cozy and good light fun, but I still think Lara Jean’s voice sounds too juvenile. Shrug. These are cute, but I’m having a hard time feeling motivated to read the third one.

Howls’s Moving Castle | Diana Wynne Jones - A nostalgic re-read for me, because it’s a childhood favorite and one I repeatedly come back to. I love Howl’s for it’s humor, wonderful characters, and warmth, but I am not an impartial judge at this point— it’s been a staple in my life for too long. I know this is sacrilege to some, but while I love them both, I think I like the movie just a tad more! This was a re-read I desperately needed in my life this month since I was disappointed with so many of the books I read or tried to read, and it helped buoy me up.

Where the Crawdads Sing | Delia Owens - Get out your pitchforks…because I DNF this one. I made it about 200 pages, and while I could see it was well written and was telling it’s story well, I am just not the reader for it. I am not at all drawn to this kind of story, and that’s okay. I passed it over to Rikki, and I’m reasonably sure she is going to absolutely love it. Thanks to Putnam for gifting us a review copy.

Passing for Human | Liana Finck - This is another book (well, graphic memoir) that I am just not the right reader for. It’s doing something very specific, and very trendy with it’s style, but I am just not someone who enjoys it. I also see what the message was supposed to be, but I think it could have been better executed. Thanks to Random House for the complimentary review copy.

Fun Home | Alison Bechdel - And yet another book that was not for me! Hooray! Fun Home falls into the category of “I can see that this is good, but I don’t like it” It’s well executed, it has a clear intention and is well layered, but I did not enjoy reading it. Part of it is that pseudo-grief memoirs, especially when they are wrestling with the death of a parent, are hard for me, but part of it was just…again I am not the right reader for this style.

The Picture of Dorian Gray | Oscar Wilde - Another much needed re-read, because Oscar Wilde never disappoints. This book is full of Wilde’s particular brand of wit and humor while tackling some deeper philosophy and darker themes. It’s cynical and dazzling in equal measure, with gorgeous prose and well constructed ideas. If you’ve never read any Wilde, do yourself a favor and pick him up; he’s nothing short of mesmerizing to read.

There There | Tommy Orange - This book really reminds me of Junot Diaz, except Orange is being a lot more straightforward than Diaz, if that makes sense; there’s less nuance and reading between the lines required. I sincerely enjoyed it though, and it was certainly one of the best books I’ve read recently. I think the use of multiple perspectives is interesting and well done, with the right amount of connection between them. Also the ending was a little shocking, even though I expected it, and the lack of closure ultimately served the story well. Thanks so much to Knopf for gifting us a review copy.

 

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Rikki

The Witch of Blackbird Pond | Elizabeth Speare George - This month’s buddy read with my oldest, I would have so appreciated this book more at a younger age. Nonetheless, still a charming book, especially to share with your children. (side note from Michaela: I read this as a kid and really loved it!).

Cinder | Marissa Meyer - So many people recommended this book as another buddy read for my oldest, and it fit the bill perfectly. I enjoyed it much more than anticipated and he’s in the middle of reading it and liking it as well.

The Kitchen House | Kathleen Grissom - A long awaited read, I loved this book. A fictional, yet realistic look at life for an orphan girl and the servants of a plantation. The story follows the orphan girl through the majority of her life and through the relationships she makes. It’s very well done.

The Picture of Dorian Gray | Oscar Wilde - This book is excellent! It’s full of satire and often crude offbeat humor. For being written in the late 19th century, it’s even more brilliant than one might realize at first!

The Penderwick’s | Jeanne Birdsall - I’ve been meaning to read this book for some time, wondering if my kids would like it as well. It’s a darling story of four sisters on their summer vacation, and I can’t wait to pass it off to my daughter!

White Oleander | Janet Fitch - I loved this book. It’s a beautifully written portrayal of a girl navigating life after her mother murders a former lover. Astrid comes of age and learns to navigate life, learn the not-so-pretty person her mother is, and in certain small ways, I was able to relate to many aspects of her struggles. The book ended as it should have; a closed chapter of her life, not an ending.

GUEST REVIEWER

Nicole | @nicoleviolabooks

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Hello, fellow Ardent Biblio readers! I'm Nicole, a renaissance mama, and a reader with a deep abiding love for YA lit. I also enjoy classics and chick lit (is that still a term?), middle grade, light sci-fi, and I'm trying to venture into fantasy. I take my time with non-fiction and memoir, but I generally blow through fiction. I'm currently a bit burnt-out on historical fiction and I've finally come to terms with the fact that despite studying literature in college and grad school, I'm just not drawn to literary fiction or books with heavier themes. I'm currently writing a YA novel and querying another and also homeschool my kids part-time and cheer for lots of sports games. You can find me online at nicolevbennett.com.


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Daddy-Long-Legs | Jean Webster - This book has been waiting on my Kindle for years, ever since I read one of my favorite books, Dear Mr. Knightly (a retelling of it by Katherine Reay). Well, the original did not disappoint; I thoroughly loved Daddy-Long-Legs! The narrator is quirky and clever, and her humor still holds up over a hundred years after the book was written. Written in an easy, epistolary style (which I always love), this book was simply a delight for me.

The Cafe by the Sea | Jenny Colgan - I'm a big Jenny Colgan fan and loved this story, which, while reminiscent of some of her other books, drew me right in, thanks to its heartwarming story and atmospheric setting on a fictional Scottish island. I loved how she wove strands of Scottish lore and culture into the story, and of course, Jenny Colgan sure knows how to weave in a good romance (or two) as well. I'm ready to take a trip to Scotland and to the fictional Endless Beach now!

Renegades | Marissa Meyer - When I find an author I love, I become a loyal reader. Since I loved the Lunar Chronicles so much (it was my first real foray into anything sci-fi), I was drawn to Renegades simply because of who wrote it (that, and its eye-catching cover!). I've never read any superhero stories before but really liked this one. I can't wait for the next book in the series to come out in November! The different super powers in the book were crafted so creatively, and my eight-year old son kept sneaking the book away from me to re-read the cast of characters and their powers in the front of the book. I love the questions about society that this book raises, too. 


What did you read and love this month?

What We're Excited to Read This Fall

There’s about a two week transitional period here in the Pacific Northwest that sees us through the last heat wave of summer and into the inevitable, seemingly abrupt, turn to autumn. It’s a welcome time, as we’re so accustomed to our often mild weather and dressing in layers, plus one can only read so many fun beach novels before craving something different. At least, that’s the case for us. This time of year, as we slide back in to misty mornings, shorter days, and brilliantly colored trees, we find ourselves drawn to atmospheric campus novels, classics, fantasy, and usually a good door stop or two as we cozy in with warm blankets and tea.

After much debate and scouring of shelves, these are some of the many books we’re most looking forward to reading this fall.

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Rikki

There are a few novels that I’ve simply been meaning to read until the weather shifted and the slow, dark prose was well-suited to the overall mood and atmosphere of the season. When you fully immerse yourself into the atmosphere of a novel, matching the weather, the seasonal food, the clothes, etc., can all be felt in a greater context. I’ve started most of these actually, seeing which ones I really wanted to commit to, and well, they all made the cut.

Michaela turned me on to Oscar Wilde a few years ago with The Importance of Being Earnest, and after needing a palate cleanser, I started The Picture of Dorian Gray. I’ve been making my way through this book this past month, and have found myself laughing out loud on so many occasions. It is a hysterical. While also craving something slow and intentional, Karl One Knausgaard’s Autumn was a no-brainer! One of the most charming stories of simple every day things that one may or may not ever reflect on as they go about their day, raise their children, meander through orchards, and watch the sun set.

Needing even more mood, I can’t resist Faulkner, whom I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time. As I Lay Dying is the deeper, make-you-think type of novel I can easily get lost in on a rainy day. A perfect compliment to Faulkner is Leaf Storm by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I’m excited to explore both author’s work.

I’m keeping the rest of my options open for campus novels and moody books, so if you have recommendations, feel free to send them my way! Speaking of recommendations, The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon was recently recommended to us as a “hard to put down campus novel. I’m really looking forward to reading this! The reviews are quite controversial and all over the place, which is all the intrigue I need.

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Michaela

The colder the weather gets, the more I crave fantasy, big tomes, and atmospheric reads. I seek this same mood every year, I know, but I can’t help it! Nothing goes better with a steaming mug of tea than richly drawn worlds and dark atmosphere.

Fantasy

For fantasy this fall I’m kind of running the gamut this season. I’m picking up Diane Setterfield’s (The Thirteenth Tale, anyone?) forthcoming novel Once Upon A River, which is a all myth and fairytale and mystery; you know, the good stuff. I’m also reading the third installment of Becky Chamber’s Wayfarers series, Record of a Spaceborn Few. If her past books are any indication, this one will be a warm cozy hug of a sci-fi novel and I can’t wait to just be wrapped in her magical world building and characters.

I’m also picking up two, big hefty plot-driven fantasy novels: The Lies of Locke Lamora, because I’ve been meaning to read it forever (and it is soooooo delightfully sassy and fun so far!), and Warbreaker for book club, which sounds like it’s basically going to be kickass princesses and magic and gods. Obviously I am here for it, plus Sanderson is another author I’ve been meaning to read.

Atmosphere

I’m mixing up my atmospheric books this year, and instead of going and hiding in The Secret History forever and ever, I’m looking to a few authors I trust to give me that moody ambiance I crave. Lief Enger (of Peace Like A River fame) has a new novel out October 2nd called Virgil Wander, and from what I’ve read of it so far, it is just exquisite. The plot is nearly irrelevant, it’s enough to just bask in Enger’s writing, but it revolves around a man, his life changing accident, and his relationships with the people in his small town.

Speaking of exquisite writing, I just finished reading Claire Fuller’s forthcoming title Bitter Orange, and was so blown away by the level of skill and atmosphere, I was immediately inspired to pick up her previous works Swimming Lessons and Our Endless, Numbered Days. Though the plots are all different, I’m hearing she has that moody undercurrent I love in all her books.

I’m also excited for The Essex Serpent, which has been on my TBR for a while thanks to everyone praising it’s atmospheric Victorian setting, spooky bits, and deep dives into the main character and her relationships. The last two novels I’m anticipating are Home Fire, which I’m sure you’ve seen absolutely everywhere thanks to it winning the women’s prize for fiction and getting long listed for the Man Booker, and Gentlemen and Players, which should fulfill my Secret History cravings quite nicely with it’s campus setting and murder-y vibes.

Doorstopper

Call me crazy, but I am head over heels in love with War and Peace. It’s famously enormous, of course, but whenever I pick it up I always, ALWAYS get sucked into it and end up reading for an hour—or three. I’m currently about 300 pages into it, and you can read a bit about why I decided to read it and how I chose the translation I’m reading right over here.

Also, maybe this will sound silly, but it’s really helped me to watch the mini series as I make my way through this behemoth. I’ve been watching an episode, reading up to where the episode cuts off, and then watching another, then reading, etc. It helps me to know where I’m going in the book and the show is just so deliciously well done; it’s been a great companion to the novel. I’m hoping to finish this one well before the year ends, so wish me luck!

What are you looking forward to reading this fall?

Wrap Up | August 2018
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Michaela

I Believe in a Thing Called Love | Maurene Goo- A fellow kdrama fan recommended this to me, with fair warning that it was cotton candy level fluff, and she was right. Super fun to catch all the kdrama references, and had a cute, quick plot, and that was about it. Good fun if you need a light YA novel!

Social Creature | Tara Isabella Burton- Ugh. One of the worst books I've read this year, it was just trying wayyy tooooo hard. Trope filled and not particularly good, while also being just stuffed with useless shock-value things in an effort to be edgy. It was a vaguely interesting look at social media in society on a very specific level, but that's about it. Blah. Thank you to Doubleday for gifting us a complimentary review copy. 

I'd Rather Be Reading | Anne Bogel- We got to read this a bit early thanks to Anne and Baker Books, and we are so glad we did! This essay collection spoke to my bookish heart. All of them were relatable, a couple were funny and warm, and some were seriously interesting. Like have you ever thought about what the author acknowledgments reveal about the author and the work? It's a quick read and will make you feel like someone really gets you and your bookworm-y ways.

To All The Boys I've Loved Before | Jenny Han- Yes, I gave into the hype! I decided I wanted to read the book before watching the movie on Netflix, and I'm not sorry about it. Basically this is a heartwarming rom com with a really relatable heroine. Reading about ladies kicking ass and being spunky is awesome, but it's also nice to see a lead who just loves her family and wants to chill and knit and read like most of us. An interesting shift, and the series is a fun one. My one complaint is that the narrator is supposedly sixteen, but seems very juvenile. 

Girl, With Guitar | Tracy Young- What a smart piece of YA, and with such a refreshing lack of romance! This was frankly a cut above the other YA I've read recently for it's wit, humor, and heart. Young has crafted a fierce, but entirely relatable narrator and her motley crew of friends and bandmates, who is out to win her town's Battle of the Bands. The plot was fun and engaging, and the characters were well developed and interesting, all backed by a solid message of empowerment and swathed in dry wit. Thanks so much to the author for the gift of a review copy. 

Bitter Orange | Claire Fuller-Hands down the best book I read this month, and one of the best of the year so far. I can't thank Tin House enough for sending us an early review copy, because holy crap. Bitter Orange is like if Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night and Du Maurier’s Rebecca had an eerily atmospheric, glittering book baby. It’s been a long time since I’ve read such an atmospheric novel, and it was such a clever, clever twist on the unreliable narrator thing. It’s subtle and layered and builds so thoroughly and smoothly, and the ending just got completely under my skin. It is going to make such a perfect fall release, with it’s creepy vibes and sinister drama under it’s sunny facade. A stunningly written and complex mystery. Slow clap, Ms. Fuller, that was amazing.

The Best We Could Do | Thi Bu- I am decidedly not a crier, but this graphic memoir was so impactful it had me misty eyed at the end. The focus is on one family's immigration story from Viet Nam, but manages to wrap in so much history and culture and personal history and relationship drama so elegantly and meaningfully. I loved this so much, I immediately bought myself a copy after returning it to the library. No question, this was one of the best books I've read this year. 

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows | Balli Kaur JaswalThank you Bad People Book Club for a complimentary copy of this book. I have to say this book surprised me; I definitely did not expect it to be as layered and well developed as it was, and found myself really enjoying the story. There is a lot packed in here about feminism, immigration, insular expat communities, the duality of community, the struggle between tradition and modernity, all brought out through a group of widows writing steamy stories. Just really unique and chock full of good stuff. 

Windhaven | George R.R. Martin + Lisa Tuttle- This was a graphic novel adaptation of the existing novel, and honestly I think some of the complexity and nuance were lost in translation. While the story was good, there were points where it felt jarring, and distinctly like you were missing something, and made it harder to follow than it should have been. Decent, but honestly I just want to go read the novel now and see what pieces were missing and experience the full extent of it's power. Thanks to Random House for the complimentary review copy!

What We Were Promised | Lucy Tan- I did not finish this one. I got a little over halfway and gave up on it. It simply wasn't strong enough to be such a character driven novel, and I found myself actively bored and frustrated with the writing, so it wasn't worth finishing for me. Thanks to Little Brown for gifting us a review copy. 

 

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Rikki

The Lover | Marguerite Duras - I was really unsure about this story while reading it, but I loved Duras' writing. She has a beautiful and sparse prose that often had me rereading passages. The story took me off guard, even more so when I learned it was autobiographical, but I found her reflective format a perfect way to write a memoir. 

Listen, Slowly | Thanhha Lai - Adding to my diverse ya reading, I used one of Lai's books for my thesis project, and wanted to ensure I was familiar with her work. This is definitely a middle grade novel, but it was considerably well done. I didn't care for the tropes added in for the benefit of the main character to match her age, but otherwise, it was a great story of a young girl exploring her Vietnamese culture and learning about her family's history, all while getting over herself. 

Of Mice and Men | John Steinbeck - I can't believe it's taken me so long to read Of Mice and Men! I LOVED this story so much, and although it completely broke my heart, it was excellent! I never know what to say about Steinbeck's books, because they're so down to earth, but absolutely rich with detail, narrative, place, and solidly developed characters - I can scarcely articulate more than that.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince | J.K. Rowling - I don't want to talk about it! Why Joanne?! WHY?!

Fahrenheit 451 | Ray Bradbury - I went into this with absolutely no expectations, except that it's a well-loved book that has stood the test of time. I'm quite exceptional at avoiding spoilers. I was blown away from the beginning, being instantly pulled into wondering "what is going to happen?!" It's a grim look at a potential future of life without literature (NOOOOO) and how this overwrought community navigates the curiosity and laws surrounding that.

I'd Rather Be Reading | Anne Bogel  - A complimentary review gift from Anne, such a treat! This book is a small collection of essays detailing different facets of a reader's life. It's like a warm hug from an understanding fellow reader who gets all the quirks, dilemmas, and up-too-late-now-i'm-grumpy-and-tired scenarios. I really enjoyed this quick read, mentions of my favorite books, and moments that struck right in the heart. 

The Best We Could Do | Thi Bui  - A multiculturally diverse YA graphic novel that kind of blew my mind. There is so much packed into this graphic novel; it's full of history, generational family building, and the overall story of Bui's (very interesting) life -- I was really impressed.

Circe | Madeline Miller - Our August read-along. I was slow reading this in the beginning, as this book is so far outside of my usual reading style, but I ended up really liking it. Miller did a brilliant job weaving mythology into a fictional recount of Circe's life. The story spanned millennia flawlessly and painted vivid pictures, all while handling maturity, motherhood, and finding independence so well, you couldn't help but resonate with the all-too-real moments. Truly impressed by this one.

Inside Out & Back Again | Thanhha Lai - I didn't love this book as much as Listen, Slowly, but it was a really good, strong example of the struggles immigrants (particularly children) can have when adjusting to a new life and culture. This is a great middle grade read I'll be passing off to my kids.

The Pearl | John Steinbeck - Where do I begin?! Ugly crying over your broken heart maybe. The one thing I've always known about this book, is that the ending is scarring and brutal. So I'll admit that while I enjoyed this like I do all of Steinbeck's novels, I stopped before the very end. I'm reimagining a happier ending. Sorry, I just couldn't do it. 

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows | Ballin Kaur Jaswal - Thank you Bad People Book Club for a complimentary copy of this book. I loved this story! It is so down-to-earth and real, with great character voices and dialogue throughout the story, along with a little mystery, intrigue, and cultural awareness. It can make a modest woman blush, but all the things women tend to fear saying out loud was spilled wide open. Round of applause.

What did you read and love this month?

Ready to Go Back to School? Campus Novels to Get You In The Mood
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The Secret History | Donna Tartt

Pretty much the poster child mascot of every campus novel list ever, let's just start here and get it out of the way. This book is amazing, the hype is all true. It's ancient Greek myth, and snobby, elegant rich college kids, and murder, and friendship all just soaked in atmosphere. Seriously, the atmosphere in here is absolutely stunning; I've never read anything quite like it. It's set on a college campus in Vermont, and much of the action happens in classrooms and dorms, so you'll have your fill of all that collegiate goodness. 

 

If We Were Villains | M. L. Rio

If you loved the plot of The Secret History so much you can't wait to get your hands on another one, If We Were Villains is your best bet. Instead of the ancient Greeks, these characters are all actors and obsessed with Shakespeare. Same plot points of murder/friendship/rivalry though, and of course, it's set on a very exclusive private college campus.

 

A Separate Peace | John Knowles

This is one of those books I read in school and has really stuck with me for the last 15 years. It's set at an all boys boarding school in England during the early years of WWII, and centers on the friendship of two boys and an incident that changes their lives and relationship forever. Themes of adolescence, loss of innocence, and all the complexities and pressures of attending the boarding school abound. 

 

Black Chalk | Christopher J. Yates

In this story we have six friends attending Oxford who all play a game of dares amongst themselves. It starts out pretty innocent, but deepens as they raise the stakes and the consequences. This is obviously going to go south sometime, and to further complicate it, there is the looming presence of a shadowy secret society. It's fairly plot driven, but has a complex layered structure of unreliability. If you like unreliable narrators, this one takes it to the next level, possibly two or three levels up. 

 

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Brideshead Revisited | Evelyn Waugh

One of my very favorite classics, the bulk of this novel centers on the main character's time at Oxford. Waugh is a gorgeous writer and recounts the relationship between two young men (one of whom is very rich, and very complicated) in the waning days of England's great houses. Warm and full of love and complex friendships, grandeur and loss, it's also above all utterly mired in deep, deep nostalgia. 

 

The Marriage Plot | Jeffrey Eugenides

Set in the early '80's, English major Madeline Hanna is writing her senior thesis on the plot device of marriage that drives some of the greatest novels of the 19th century. Cue a love triangle for Madeline, and the resulting fallout. Literary, character driven, and surprisingly deep, it explores whether the trope of the marriage plot is dead in the modern world, where marriage isn't the penultimate goal, and divorce is rampant. 

 

This Side of Paradise | F. Scott Fitzgerald

This is actually Fitzgerald's very first novel, and while it isn't as tightly woven as some of his later works (ahem, Gatsby), it's still full of his signature magic. The story centers on Amory Blaine, a student at Princeton, and explores youth and love that is tainted by extravagance, greed, and status. It's supposedly semi-autobiographical and representative of the morality and lives of "the lost generation", which completely fascinates me. 

 

Stoner | John Williams

Seriously, this novel is perfect. Our hero is a professor of literature at the University of Missouri, with a generally lackluster (grim, maybe?) home life, and a fairly colorful one on campus. He is a man with a lot of integrity, a deep love of literature, and who is an accomplished scholar. The novel gives great details on the petty machinations, vicious office politics, and behind the scenes back-stabbings in the dark halls of academia if that's your thing!

The Raven Boys | Maggie Stiefvater

One of the more popular YA fantasy series of the past few years, featuring a private school for rich boys, ghosts, magic, prophecies, friendship, and of course a love story. It's shockingly atmospheric, has great characters, and of course is a bit different than your average campus novel.

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A Prayer for Owen Meany | John Irving

Much of this book revolves around the friendship of Owen and John, and much of their friendship develops through their school years and their attendance together at Gravesend Academy. This is much more than a campus novel though, and is basically a basket of emotions, and layers, and stellar writing. This is one seriously beloved novel, and comes highly recommended by pretty much the entire world. 

 

Possession | A.S. Byatt

This won the Man Booker back in 1990 and for good reason. The two main characters are both academics researching two different Victorian poets when they realize (after much literary sleuthing) that the poets they are researching had an affair with one another. Byatt attacks the insular world of academia, while crafting an amazing love story that is equal parts passion and anguish. This is one of those deeply melancholy, atmospheric novels that is full of puzzles and brilliance, and is tailor made for those who love the world of academia. 

 

Fangirl | Rainbow Rowell

On a lighter note, Fangirl is about Cath's adjustment to college life without her twin glued to her side, and growing into her authorship of fanfiction based on the Simon Snow (Harry Potter) novels. She's a little obsessed with the fandom (aren't we all) and this book is such a great look at fandom and fanfic culture, as well as what it's like to grow into yourself that first year away from home. I loved it. 

 

Never Let Me Go | Kazuo Ishiguro

The less said about the plot of this novel the better. Do yourself a favor and don't google it! What I will say is that Ishiguro is a profoundly talented writer, and the book is largely set at a boarding school in the English countryside. It's a literary mystery, an ethical critique, a love story, and a coming of age novel all rolled into one fascinating package. 

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Do you have a favorite campus novel??

Foreign Authors and Their Most Loved Books
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This past year of studying diversity and multiculturalism in literature, has completely reshaped my reading life. Everything seems to take on a deeper context than I've ever known before, thus I'm craving new and different things. Thankfully, that's where the beauty of Bookstagram comes in.

One afternoon, I was looking up a writer whose book I recently read. As I was scrolling through her feed, I stumbled upon a post about Marguerite Duras. I had never heard of her before, so I immediately took to the web to find out who she was and what she had written. As it happened, my library had her memoir, The Lover, so I read it immediately. 

I've read so many diverse novels (many young adult) this past year from the courses I was taking. Books that had a centralized theme on social classes, race, culture, mental illness, sexuality, all of which included writers from different backgrounds and regions as well. My desire for this type of literature has grown immensely. So I reached out on Instagram and asked for your favorite foreign authors and received great recommendations!

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The Lover | Marguerite Duras - French - This can be a difficult story for some to read if the age gap bothers you, but being autobiographical, I find I am much less critical of the content, and for what it was, she wrote it well. Despite that, her prose is sparse, beautiful, and all told in retrospect of a particular time in her life. I fully appreciate her writing and look forward to exploring more of her work.

Neapolitan Novels | Elena Ferrante - Italian - A much loved series of Ferrante's, her books are packed with a depth and richness unmatched by others. Navigating two women's lives, and their friendship, her thought-provoking quartet is so well loved.

The Eyre Affair | Jasper Fforde - British - A unique, on-going series from Great Britain, Frorde uses time travel, suspense, and often humorous prose to pull characters from some of the best loved and well known literature, and throw them into outlandish scenes and stories.

Little Jewel | Patrick Modiano - French - An intriguing mystery of a young girl in Paris who thinks she sees her long lost mother. On a quest to remember the past, Modiano masterfully creates atmosphere, using the city as a main focal point of the story, to aid his unreliable narrator and unique plot.

Les Miserables | Victor Hugo - French - A timeless book that moves readers through its strong prose, redemption, and fight between good and evil. Set in 19th century France, there is a strong undertone of political injustice that Hugo was critical of.

The Heart | Maylis de Kerangal - French - A truly heart wrenching story of love, loss, and survival. A quick and emotional read that has surprised many with its literary merit.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Milan Kundera - Czech - Set in Prague, this is a tale of two couples during the Soviet occupation in the '60s. Described as rich, beautiful, complex, and intellectual, all with a metaphorical philosophical twist using the characters and loose plot.

The Idiot | Fyodor Dostoyevsky - Russian - A unique tale of a man that is genuinely innocent in nature, ends caught up in a love triangle and other tense societal situations he has to navigate. It's remarkable and complex, often the way Russian literature is.

Resurrection | Leo Tolstoy - Russian - A look at the darker emotions of guilt, anger, and social injustice, Resurrection is about a man on jury to convict a woman he was involved with. Now determined to right his wrongs, he fights to appeal her.

The Red and the Black | Roger Gard Stendhal - French - Hailed as having one of the most intriguing characters in European literature, this novel navigates a man attempting to be better than where he came from, but then commits a terrible crime. Filled with wit and satire, there is also an abundance of subtext on France after the Battle of Waterloo, which highlights important elements that is said one should research if you're struggling to find this book interesting.

Kafka on the Shore | Haruki Murakami - Japanese - A young and old man drawn together in a clever story that is as loved as it is hated. I've seen it written that you often have to read certain books of Murakami's before reading others, to better understand the context, so be sure to do your research. His bizarre storylines are woven with fantastical imagery and insight, full of metaphors and are fully unconventional.

A Man Called Ove, Beartown | Fredrik Backman - Swedish - The first is a charming, heartbreaking and heartwarming tale of a man throughout his life leading to the present moment in which we find ourselves converging with new and different characters as they interact with the main character. You'll be hating and loving him with such intensity, you won't be able to put the book down. The latter is a long, layered, rich story of a town navigating through their shared love of hockey as something tragic happens and threatens their unique structure holding everyone and everything together.

The Shadow of the Wind | Carlos Ruiz Zafon - Spanish - Post war in Barcelona, a secret book society, and vanishing books, this book is woven with family, grief, and deep dark secrets. Described as having a complicated plot but with some of the best loved characters in literature.

Inkheart | Cornelia Funke - German - When books actually come to life. A man reading to his daughter unleashes a villain that is after his special gift, then leads you on a tale of conquering evil.

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Note on translations: Most of these books need to be thoughtfully selected with the translator in mind. Each version will provide a unique and different reading experience. You can read a post we wrote on how to do that and the importance of it right HERE.

Best Books For Foodies & Lovers of Food Writing
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For a peek into the kitchen

Kitchen Confidential | Anthony Bourdain- This is pretty much a classic of the genre, and was my personal gateway drug. Bourdain chronicles his life in the kitchen and doesn't hesitate to dish on the sex, drugs, gratuitous cursing, haute cuisine, general atmosphere and culture of the profession. I really enjoyed his honest peek behind the curtain and it shows off exactly what it was like to work in the kitchen before the age of celebrity chefs. 

The Making of a Chef | Michael Ruhlman- Ruhlman decides to engage in a bit of stunt journalism and enroll in the Culinary Institute of America to look at what the process of becoming a chef is really like. This book is full of detailed information about the processes of cooking, the skills he learned, and the chefs he met. It was intimate and fascinating. 

Delancey | Molly Wizenberg-  When her husband decides to open a pizza restaurant in Seattle, Wizenberg is less than thrilled. However, she writes about the process of recipe developing, what it takes to open a restaurant, and then what it's like to actually work in it in a way that is so visceral and human. She is a superb writer, and this was the perfect look at what the journey of opening a restaurant entails from a very personal point of view. 

Food and the City | Ina Yalof- This one looks at what's happening behind the scenes in the world of food in New York City. It's almost like short stories; every chapter reads like a conversation with someone in the industry, and is chock full of great storytelling and interesting tidbits. If you crave an insiders look at the industry as a whole (it runs the gamut from food cart vendors and dishwashers, to fancy chef people), this is the book for you. 

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For a look at life as a celebrity chef

Yes, Chef | Marcus Samuelsson- Samuelsson has led a really interesting life, and he discusses his background, his choices, and the things that inspired him to become a chef. If you're interested in what the road to modern celebrity chef status looks like, this is your book. 

My Life In France | Julia Child- We both really, really loved Child's memoir about her life and how she got her start in cooking while living in Paris with her husband. She is shockingly warm and funny, and this book was a complete delight to read. She is easily one of the most likable narrators I've ever read, and the world of post WWII Paris is richly drawn. If you're at all interested in food writing, this is a must. 

Coming to My Senses | Alice Waters- Ultra famous chef Alice Waters pens a memoir about what it was like during the tumultuous 1960's and 1970's, the opening up her passion project of a restaurant, the food counter-culture she was a part of, and how it ended up changing the food world forever. This book is very much about her life, and her life was very much about Chez Panisse, so this one is particularly interesting to read.

The Devil in the Kitchen | Marco Pierre White- White is like the bad boy rocker of the celebrity chef world, and his memoir proves he's worthy of his reputation. He honestly has a great sense of humor, and name drops in the best ways, so this one is extra fun to read. Like most memoirs, it recounts his early years and his rise to fame, but he's so unusual and fascinating, this book is far from ordinary. 

32 Yolks | Eric Ripert- On the lighter end, Ripert focuses on how his tumultuous childhood shaped his love of food, his stint in culinary school, what it was like to work in some seriously world famous restaurants, his various failings and missteps, and more. What sets this memoir apart from the pack is how ridiculously wonderfully he describes food, and how amusing his anecdotes are. That, and the entire book is set before he gets ultra famous, which was refreshing.

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For a taste of what it's like to be in a world class restaurant

Garlic and Sapphires | Ruth Reichl- If you ever wanted to know what life is like for a food critic, pick this up immediately. Reichl excels at describing food, and really brings the reader with her into the highfalutin restaurants she critiques for the New York Times, and the hole in the wall places she frequents for herself. She also makes you keenly aware of all the things that make a great restaurant---and it's not just the food. 

The Sweet Life in Paris | David Lebovitz- Food + Paris...what's not to love? Lebovitz moves to Paris after decades of dreaming about it, and chronicles his culture shock in all it's foodie glory. He's funny and warm, and his adventures around Paris and Parisian culture are just fun. Plus, he is, of course, a world class pastry chef and cookbook author, so the city is especially interesting through his eyes.

The Tummy Trilogy | Calvin Trillin- This was written in the 1970's, but Trillin basically gets paid to traipse around the country trying food everywhere he goes. Dream life, right? He's another author that writes these essays with a lot of warmth and humor as he eats his way across the US. Hardcore foodies will recognize familiar landmark restaurants and pine for the food scenes of decades ago. 

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If the sommelier is your favorite person in a restaurant

Cork Dork | Bianca Bosker- I loveeeeeed this book about wine. Instead of being stuffy and pretentious, Bosker is ridiculously relatable as she takes a deep dive into the world of wine and the people who live for it. I learned so much, not only about how to taste and appreciate wine, but about the real culture in that world underneath it's prim exterior. I mean, at one point she is at a high class wine event that devolves into popping thousands of dollars of booze and group singalongs of drinking songs. It's seriously great. 

 

For inspiration in your own kitchen

My Kitchen Year | Ruth Reichl- This cookbook is half recipes, half memoir, largely about the impact of food on Reichl's life the year following the demise of Gourmet, the food magazine she headed for many years. A good mix of accessible and aspirational, she makes you want to pay attention to and connect more fully with food in your everyday life without being intimidating. She also does a wonderful job of capturing the seasons and cooking seasonally, if you've been (like me) trying to get better at that. Bonus: we did a dinner party for this book!

Here Let Us Feast | M.F.K. Fisher- This was recently reprinted by Counterpoint Press who kindly gifted us a review copy and it's basically a giant toast to the pleasures of food. Fisher is the grandmother of food writing, and this is a collection of  lighthearted essays that capture a wide variety of food writing. In it, she references and takes excerpts from books, famous chefs of times long past, movie stars, ancient writings, Shakespeare, and more.. Read this is you just plain want to get excited about food. 

 

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If fun foodie fiction is more your style

Sweetbitter | Stephanie Danler- A book that centers on a young woman working in a restaurant in NYC? Yes, please. If you're enamored with restaurant/wine/food life and books that revolve around that stuff, this is for you.  I'm a sucker for Danler's beautiful, lush, heavy writing style, and Tess's breathless, relentless pursuit of that unidentifiable something more.

Garden Spells | Sarah Addison Allen- This one is pure, warm, lighthearted fun. Enchanted apple trees,  family secrets, romance, and a caterer named Claire who can cook emotions into food, so that when it's eaten you feel what she infused into it. I love this book, it's one of my favorite comfort reads, and is just chock full of magical food.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake | Aimee Bender- Fun useless fact: this was the very first e-book I ever read, way back in like 2008! In it, nine year old Rose discovers she has the ability to taste the emotions of whoever made the food she eats. This knowledge gives her unexpected insight into the deeper workings of her family and the complex dynamics swirling beneath the surface. Ultimately, it uses food as a vehicle to explore emotions, and the impactful, complicated role they play in our lives.

The Mistress of Spices | Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni- A classic of the magical realism genre, this novel follows an immortal named Tilo who has a special gift with spices. Magic powers, surprise romance, and heavy decisions make this a fun and memorable read. 

 

BONUS: foodie documentaries

Chef's Table- The production value of this docu-series is unreal. Each episodes highlights a different chef and they do sincerely gorgeous filming, interviewing, and showcasing of that chef's story, food philosophy, and their restaurant. You get ridiculously good behind the scenes looks at famous restaurants and the genius of these people. I've never seen anything live up to the standard this series has set. Just go watch it. 

Somm- Hands down my favorite wine documentary, this is similar to Cork Dork. It follows 3 sommelier candidates as they prepare for and take the test to become certified wine masters. It's dramatic and human and fulllll of wine information.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi- Sushi lovers, if you ever wanted the most in depth look at the art of sushi, this is your film. This family takes their restaurant and the making of sushi seriously. Plus, I learned so much about the process and etiquette of eating sushi.

A Chef's Life- I've heard great things about this series, and it's next on my watch list! It looks like its part documentary, part cooking show as it follows one family and their restaurant. It seems to have a focus on southern storytelling and has won all sorts of accolades. 

Check out Anthony Bourdain's pet project that looks similar to Chef's Table, and this great list of food documentaries on Netflix, if you need more!

 

What are your favorite foodie books or shows? I'm always on the hunt for more!

 

 

Wrap Up | July 2018
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Michaela

Tin Man | Sarah Winman- We received this in our complimentary Deep Readers Club box for May, and the theme was "Contentment" so I was just not expecting this book to be what it was...and what it was was a grief novel. I can absolutely see why people say this book is warm, and it does do a decent amount with the story for it's short page count, but for me it lacked enough depth to truly stand out. On the plus side, it has that melancholy, bittersweet tone I tend to be drawn to, but it wasn't enough to save it. Pick this up if you want to read a book that's like if Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance and The Heart's Invisible Furies had a grief novel baby.

Empty Set | Veronica Gerber Bicecci- We were gifted this by Coffee House Press a few months ago, and I finally picked it up! It's such an interesting blend of visual and language arts, which I was not at all expecting. A flip through it's pages will reveal diagrams that connect marvelously to the words on the page, illustrating the webs of relationships and ideas being expressed. This book is focused on exploring emptiness in the form of both literal physical and figurative emotional space. It's style is highly experimental, but effective, and I've never read anything quite like it. I admit it won't go down as a favorite, but I'm glad to have read it, and the uniqueness will stay with me for a long time. If you're looking for a really interesting, outside of the box take on a novel about relationships, this could be for you. 

A Midsummer Night's Dream | William Shakespeare- A re-read of my favorite Shakespeare play! Just as fun and rom-com-y as I remembered, and I completely love the imagery in this, so expect a dinner party soon.

Norwegian Wood | Haruki Murakami- Wow. I expected to love this one, and really did not. I'm actually left feeling kind of gross about the whole thing. Where do I start? Trite, unlikable characters (and I am usually all about unlikeable characters), a narrator that was passive and dull, but who was supposed to be deep, lots of random sex that didn't do enough for the plot to justify the focus on it, pedestrian philosophy presented as something with gravitas, stale, overdone, heavy handed metaphors, and an oddly repetitive storyline. It was clearly heavily influenced by Gatsby and Brideshead Revisited, but was a much, much less brilliant version. It just didn't do it for me. HOWEVER. I do see potential in Murakami as a writer, he paints gorgeous scenes and I can see maybe liking one of his more fantastical works. We will see. 

Northwood | Maryse Meijer- First off, no question, it was ABSORBING. The book uses really, really unique formatting, but fair warning: the story it tells is intense and dark. It puts Fifty Shades of Grey to shame, and trigger warnings abound. The prose jumps between long stream of consciousness paragraphs, to experimental poetry, to more standard formatting of narration in order to present a clear storyline. It follows a woman who goes and lives in a cabin in the woods for a year, her relationship with a man she meets there, and the aftermath. The different formats and writing styles genuinely enhance the story and the intensity of it rather than being confusing or disjointed, and I especially loved how bits of standard fairytales are mixed into the twisted tale. The shock value in this one is high, but a lot of the emotions in here are surprisingly relatable and universal. Thanks to Catapult for providing a complimentary early copy of this one!

Convenience Store Woman | Sayaka Murata- Unexpected, insightful, and with a little edge to it, this one is a short, quirky read that’s full of great observations about the physical world, society, and emotion. I love when books are tightly written, and this one neatly packs a whole lot into it’s 170 pages. In the end it’s about the pressure to conform, but there is so much more inside this little world of a book. Definitely recommend. Thanks to Grove Atlantic for the complimentary review copy.

The Hour of Daydreams | Renee Macalino Rutledge  - This is a reimagining of a Filipino folktale about a man who falls in love with a Star Maiden, but manages to be a much deeper exploration of love, relationships, and identity. I really enjoyed how layered this one was, and though the prose was a little dense, it was beautiful. Rutledge does a wonderful job weaving myth and fantasy into the story of an everyday couple, who maybe aren't so ordinary. If you like fairytale retellings, and don't mind some density, this could be for you. Especially recommended for fans of the Snow Child. Thanks to Forest Avenue Press for the complimentary review copy.

Circe | Madeline Miller- Easily my favorite book this month, Circe was absolutely lovely. Prose that skims along, but is beautiful enough to warrant re-reading sentences, a lot of plot without being confusing or tangential, and overarching themes of quiet strength and feminism. There are lots of familiar myths, legends, gods and goddesses in here all reworked from a new perspective; I did a lot of Googling for a refresher on some of these characters. I've seen some criticisms of Circe not being flashy enough with her powers, or not standing up for herself enough, but I think the point of this book was that she wasn't interested in flashy heroics, she defied the gods quietly and only to serve herself. So much of this book is focused on the strength of women in so many different ways, and I thought it was very well done. 

 

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Rikki

The Astonishing Color of After | Emily X.R. PanI really loved this book. Pan took a difficult topic/event and turned it into a creative and colorful story with a lyrical tone that shows the innermost side of working through grief as well as the power of friendship and family. It's beautifully done and I loved every minute of it.

Cannery Row | John SteinbeckAh, to be in Steinbeck's world again was purely delightful. I truly love his fluid writing and effortlessly descriptive atmosphere that takes me through interesting narrative interwoven with descriptive scenes. While reading, I'm equal parts taking my time to enjoy it and can't put it down. I could read Steinbeck forever. 

Growing a Farmer | Kurt Timmermeister A local foodie and entrepreneur once owned a bakery in our beloved Seattle, followed by a restaurant. Decades later and he's now a full-fledged farmer on a local island, a mere fifteen minutes away from our home. While this isn't a telling or gripping memoir, it was fun to fall into his organic, dreamy, and novice shift to becoming a farmer. As a gardener and small homesteader, stories like this hold a lot of appeal for me.

The Girl in the Garden | Melanie WallaceA long awaited read, that was not exactly what I was expecting. It was a curious, character-driven story, written in long flowing detail. Thankfully, I was in the right mood for this style of book: patient. It was quite good overall, but by the very last page as the story wrapped itself up, what I expected to happen turned into a controversially morbid ending. 

The Power of Habit | Charles Duhigg I soaked up this book like a sponge! It's fascinating to learn how our brains work, and even more so, what makes us do the things we do.  Having studied and ran my own business for so many years, marketing and learning to lure people in, was a big part of my regular work routine. This book dove all in, in a really understandable way, as to how companies and people have done that for for over a century for all sorts of reasons. If you have any inclination to this sort of thing, I highly recommend picking it up. I'm ordering a copy to annotate and use as a reference right now.

Northwood | Maryse MeijerThis book. Oh my god. I loved it's unique, (partially) abstract-written format, poetry, and creativity. BUT, the storyline details this woman's autobiographical account as a nymphomaniac, off-and-on addict, and an affair with a married man she could never quite get over, even after she got married. Aside from the crass absurdities in her behavior, I liked the concept, but even then it was dark and disturbing.

Hillbilly Elegy | J.D. Vance - A last minute quick read for the month, this was another not-what-I-was-expecting book. A story brought together by vignettes of J.D.'s life and the culture surrounding him as he grew up in the South as a self proclaimed hillbilly. J.D. draws from societal facts that examine the life of his deep-South demographic, which I found fascinating. Really glad I read this.

 

What did you read and love this month?

Summer Books + Cocktails 2018
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*some links are affiliate, and we deeply appreciate your support. Some of these books were gifted to us by the publisher.

With summer in full swing, we're finding we just want to be outside with our books, ice cold drink in hand. Can you blame us? We rounded up a few of the books we've been loving lately and paired them with some drinks that match them perfectly. Got a cocktail shaker handy? Let's do this!

P.S. Check out last year's summer books , book flights, and summer cocktails!

 

You Think It, I'll Say It | Curtis Sittenfeld

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Timely and pitch perfect, this short story collection explores the intimate corners of people's lives in a way that is nuanced and relatable. A trendy wine mixed with a jumble of flavors that meld together perfectly? Sounds like the perfect alcoholic embodiment of this book!

 

Rosé Sangria

  • 1 bottle of dry rosé wine
  • .5 cup brandy
  • .5 cup Grand Marnier
  • 2 cups club soda
  • 2 oranges, sliced
  • 2 limes, sliced
  • 1 cup melon cubes
  • 1 pint strawberries, sliced

Add all the fruit to the bottom of the pitcher. Top with liquors and club soda. Stir, then refrigerate at least 30 minutes to let the flavors blend. Serve in wine glasses with ice. 

 

Social Creature | Tara Burton

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Social Creature is one of summer's hottest thrillers and calls for a cocktail that is as sophisticated and trendy as Louise wants to be. We think a classic daiquiri fits perfectly with this novel and could easily be Louise's go-to bar order when she isn't quaffing free champagne. When served in elegant stemware this is timeless sophistication with a touch of glamour; it's not the strawberry pink slushy monstrosity you're imagining, but a drink that is simple, elegant, and not particularly sweet.

 

Daiquiri

  • Crushed Ice
  • 2 oz light rum
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • .5 oz simple syrup

Put the ice in a cocktail shaker, add the rum, lime juice, and simple syrup. Shake well and strain into a chilled martini glass.

 

A Midsummer Night's Dream | William Shakespeare

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Mortals and fairies, a summer night, an enchanted forest, star-crossed lovers, beauty, love potions, magic flowers, and happy endings all around make this whimsical play one of my favorites. It's the perfect fantastical story to read under the stars on a warm summer evening. Cocktails for this book should be herby, fizzy, and fun: we recommend a rosemary gin fizz.

 

Rosemary Gin Fizz

Rosemary Simple Syrup

  • .5 cup sugar
  • .5 cup water
  • 4 sprigs rosemary

Combine in a saucepan and heat over medium until sugar completely dissolves while muddling rosemary. Let cool. 

Gin Fizz

  • .25 cup gin
  • 1 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1 T fresh lime juice
  • .25 cup seltzer

Combine gin, citrus juices, and 2 tablespoons simple syrup in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well, strain into a rocks glass over ice and top with seltzer. Garnish with a rosemary sprig if desired. 

 

Brideshead Revisited | Evelyn Waugh

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Waugh is a gorgeous writer and recounts the relationship between two young men (one of whom is very rich, and very complicated) in the waning days of England's great houses. The book takes you from Oxford, to the English countryside, through Venice, on cruise ships to New York, to Morocco, and back into the "present day" where Charles, our narrator, is a Captain in the British army. Warm, nostalgic, and full of art, love, complicated friendships, grandeur and loss; it's just gossipy and opulent enough, but grounded with heavier themes. A classic Gin and Tonic is the perfect pairing; stiff and simple, yet luxurious.

 

Gin + Tonic

  • 2 oz gin
  • 3 oz good tonic water
  • 1/2 a lime, juiced

Add all ingredients to a highball glass with ice. Stir and garnish with a lime wedge. 

 

Circe | Madeline Miller

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Circe is a reimagining of the classic Greek myth, so we chose a cocktail that incorporates classic Greek flavors and is as yellow as Circe's famous eyes. Honestly, it tastes like a tasty, alcoholic falafel. Something about the herbs and all the botanicals in the gin just mix up nicely together, and give a really mediterranean feel. I guarantee this drink will be on repeat this summer around here! 

 

Cucumber Mint Gimlet

  • slices of cucumber
  • 10 mint leaves
  • 1.5 tsp simple syrup
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1.5 oz gin

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the mint, cucumber, and simple syrup. Fill shaker with ice, then add lime juice and gin. Shake, strain into a martini glass, and garnish with mint. 

 

Everything Here is beautiful | Mira Lee

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We were recently lucky enough to be sent a complimentary box from Bad People Book Club to test out! They design a cocktail to pair with a book and send you both the book and the ingredients (minus the alcohol) with a handy recipe card. We can 100% get behind their mission to encourage a chill night with friends discussing books with a cocktail to match.

The book we got was Everything Here is Beautiful, and the cocktail has some color changing wizardry involved to reflect one of the main character's shifting personality due to mental illness. Pretty cool, right? This was definitely one of the more inventive cocktails we've ever made ourselves, and it was super smooth and balanced with interesting flavors and not too much sweetness. Thanks again, Bad People Book Club!

 

Do you have a favorite drink you like to mix up in the summer? Or a great idea for a cocktail + book pairing?

We'd love to hear!